"Even Women and Ignorant Persons
Studied Luther's Bible"
Hearing that Martin Luther had been excommunicated after his trial at Worms, Germany, some of his friends kidnapped him and took him for his own safety to Wartburg Castle. While there, he began what was to be his most important work—translating the Bible into German. On occasion he would leave the castle to visit nearby towns and markets to listen carefully to the people around him so that he could write the way people spoke.
Martin Luther’s translation was the resource that gave power to the Reformation. It also was a watershed in the development of the German language.
The Reformation was all about whether authority rested with the church and the pope or with the Scriptures. Luther’s translation made the Word of God available to everyone so that Germans could read the Bible for themselves. John Cochlaeus complained that “even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who could read a little German studied Luther’s New Testament as the fountain of all truth.”
Luther’s Bible was also a watershed in the development of the German language. German translations of the Bible had been made before, but Luther’s was readable and contemporary and helped standardize a language that was fragmented by many dialects. “I endeavored to make Moses so German,” said Luther, “that no one would suspect he was a Jew.”
The New Testament was published in 1522 and the complete Bible in 1534 with 184 woodcuts. Its widespread
distribution—one Wittenberg printer printed more than one hundred thousand copies between 1534 and 1574—helped to unify both the language of the Germans and the spirit of German nationalism.
Luther’s Bible inspired others, and translations were soon made into French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Hungarian, Bohemian, Polish, Russian, and modern Greek.
Luther’s translation of the Bible is the finest work in the German language, according to Friedrich Nietzche. Like the English King James Version, it is a literary classic—and, like the King James Version, it is still in use today.